Tag Archives: breast cancer

Tip sheet offers overview of breast cancer screening and overdiagnosis issues

Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Photo: Thirteen Of Clubs via Flickr

Photo: Thirteen Of Clubs via Flickr

With the recent announcement of the American Cancer Society’s change in mammography and breast cancer screening guidelines, the question of when women should get screened is back in the spotlight. The issue is far from simple, as I learned when reporting on it last month for Cure Magazine, before the society’s change was announced.

As one researcher told me then, the goal of screening is to find a tumor that otherwise would not have been found – and find it early enough to undertake treatment that will save the patient’s life. Yet many other outcomes can also result from screening, ranging from false positives that can cause an intense (but hopefully brief) period of anxiety to identifying a non-invasive cancer that is treated with mastectomy, radiation or chemotherapy even if it never would have caused the woman harm. Continue reading

Time takes a critical look at breast cancer treatment

Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Photo Annie Cavanagh, Wellcome Images

Photo: Annie Cavanagh, Wellcome Images

Siobhan O’Connor recently explored in a Time magazine piece an issue that has been gaining traction in both the medical world and the media reporting on it: the overtreatment of breast cancer.

Her story, “Why Doctors Are Rethinking Breast-Cancer Treatment,” opens with an anecdote from now-60-year-old Desiree Basila, who several years ago decided to do … nothing after receiving a diagnosis of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a stage 0 cancer in the breast ducts that was not invasive – and may never become so. What makes this opening anecdote striking was not simply Basila’s decision – one that has been discussed more often in recent years – but when it occurred: Continue reading

Breast cancer screening recommendations up for review

Brenda Goodman

About Brenda Goodman

Brenda Goodman (@GoodmanBrenda), an Atlanta-based freelancer, is AHCJ’s topic leader on medical studies, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on medical study resources and tip sheets at brenda@healthjournalism.org.

With mammograms in the news lately, it’s worth noting that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has posted its plan for reviewing and updating its recommendations for screening for breast cancer. The draft research plan lays out the “strategy the Task Force will use to collect and examine research and is the first step in updating the 2009 recommendation,” according to Ana Fullmer at USPTF. Recommendations are updated every five to seven years, so she says a new recommendation probably won’t be finished for a few years.

The panel is seeking answers about the specific benefits and harms of screening mammography for women over 40, they’re asking if benefits and risks vary by imaging technique – digital mammograms, ultrasound or MRIs; and importantly, they’re trying to find out how common ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is in the U.S. and what benefits and harms are involved in treating it.

Experts recently recommended renaming DCIS to exclude the word “carcinoma” so the finding wouldn’t be so frightening to patients. DCIS is an abnormal pattern of cell growth in the milk ducts of the breast. In many cases, it doesn’t progress to cancer. Yet a growing number of women have decided to remove both breasts rather than take their chances that it isn’t dangerous.

Interested parties who want to weigh in on the draft plan are encouraged to submit comments and questions to the Task Force by Dec. 11.

Navratilova, GMA uncritically push screening

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism, and he has blogged for Covering Health ever since.

In February, Martina Navratilova was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ, the most common form of breast cancer. She has since had a lumpectomy and says she’s doing well and doesn’t expect the cancer to return. But in an interview with Good Morning America during which she announced her diagnosis and surgery, the tennis star stepped beyond the world of sport and into the world of medicine. And there she made the sort of missteps she’s known for avoiding on the court.

“The reason I wanted to speak about this is to encourage these woman to have mammograms,” (Navratilova) said. “I just want to encourage women to have that yearly check-up.”

Navratilova said she doesn’t agree with recent recommendations that women between the ages of 40 and 49 should not necessarily get regular breast cancer screenings.

“The cancer knows that you’re not 50 yet?” she said. “I can’t speak for the doctors, but in my personal case I’m so glad that I did it.”

In her blog “A Healthy Piece of My Mind,” writer and PR rep Eve Harris pointed out the fallacies lurking in the tennis star’s screening recommendations, beyond the obvious age-related concerns.

First, Harris said, Navratilova exhorts women to scrape together the money to pay for screenings, yet doesn’t mention the many programs available to help uninsured and underinsured women pay for mammograms.

Second, Navratilova claims that she was lucky, and would have been in serious trouble had she not detected the cancer when she did. In fact, Harris writes, there is not enough information about the natural progression of such cancers to make that declaration.

GMA correspondent Robin Roberts, who also has battled breast cancer, failed to point out any of that and, in fact, offered a very simplified interpretation of what the new breast cancer screening recommendations say.

(Hat tip to @lauranewmanny)

KQED profiles those who live with disease, injury

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism, and he has blogged for Covering Health ever since.

This month’s edition of Health Dialogues, part of KQED’s California Report, focuses on living with disease. In the report, KQED reporters talk to folks living with chronic disease, the effects of traumatic injury and other conditions that can have lasting effects on a person’s quality of life.

wheelchair
“Healed?” By swingnut via Flickr.

To provide insight into the life and routine of someone coping with chronic disease, reporters profile a music programmer ‘coping’ with diabetes, an activist who stumbled upon a forgotten childhood diagnosis of hepatitis B and a cellist with multiple sclerosis. They also talk to a couple dealing with cancer and two sisters on opposite ends of an organ donation chain.

In addition to cancer and disease, KQED reporters also explore how the lasting effects of traumatic injury can shape your life. Pieces include a KPBS reporter talking about his own traumatic brain injury and the story of a surfing-based physical therapy program for veterans.